The Telling

Vintage. Jul. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780804172653. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780804172349. F
Incorporating two time lines—one contemporary and one in mid-19th-century England—this novel (previously published in the UK in 2008) serves as a pleasant precursor to Baker's Longbourn. Readers will probably be more drawn to the historical narrative about housemaid and bibliophile Lizzy, who finds the bookshelves of her family's new lodger irresistible. The contemporary story introduces Rachel, a new parent dealing with the recent loss of her mother, as she clears out the country cottage (inhabited by Lizzy two centuries earlier) that her parents had purchased as a retirement vacation home. Although this work is billed as a ghost story, there are only hints of any paranormal phenomena, and none of them is frightening. The period detail in Lizzy's story is deftly handled, themes of class and privilege are explored through lodger Mr. Moore's involvement in the Chartist movement for political reform, and the slowly developing romance between Mr. Moore and Lizzy is compelling, sweet, and sad.
VERDICT Fans of egalitarian historical fiction with touches of romance who don't insist on happy endings will love this; the contemporary story may have less resonance for the readers who will most enjoy this novel.

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